Top Chef DC - The finale.

I'm not gonna lie--it's kind of a relief that this season of Top Chef is finally over. It's been something of a task for me to keep up with the recapping, and I do apologize for the effect it's had on the entertainment value of the ol' blog here. But the season went out on a fairly interesting note, even if the winner was no one we cared about or thought had half a chance.

The episode opens more or less right where the previous episode left off. Kelly's out, the other three are displaying that sense of relief mixed with dread that only the mediocre know best. Padma comes back in and calls the three finalists out; they're getting their assignment tonight so they can work on it as much as possible. It's mostly carte blanche. The only limitations are the highlights of each course: vegetable, fish, meat, dessert. The proteins will be selected by Eric and Tom, and can I point out how much I hate the false distinction between "fish" and "meat"? Hate it.

Of course, there's the usual "surprise" help, too. In walk Ilan, Hung, and Mike. There are some built-in advantages in this challenge that promise to bear fruit--Kevin worked with/for Mike some years ago, and Kevin's parents were both pastry chefs. Ed gets the first draw, and doesn't get Mike as he hoped--he gets Ilan. Kevin draws Mike, and Angelo is left with Hung (or as he put it, "I'm in the finals, we're in Asia, and I get Hung"). So Angelo and Kevin appear to be in good shape as far as their sous chefs are concerned, while Ed is saddled with the most reviled Top Chef winner in show history (and that's including Hosea, I think).

The chefs return to the residence and kibbutz, with our competing chefs trying to keep their fanboy "squee!"s under their breath. Maybe not Angelo, who's not doing any squeeing during this party; he's not feeling well, and goes to bed early, leaving Hung--well, hanging. The next morning, while Kevin and Ed break the fast, Angelo is curled up in bed, panting and groaning. He's in pain, and a doctor is en route. We saw this in the previews, and it's definitely legit. Angelo is given a 20% chance of being minimally okay to go and cook the next day. Commence drugs and fluids.

As the chefs arrive at the kitchen, there's still no Angelo. Tom informs Hung that he'll be shopping and prepping without Angelo, but that there will be phone communication to make sure that Hung's doing more or less what Angelo wants. If Angelo can't make it for the day of service, then they'll deal with it then. The proteins have been acquired, and they are: rouget (red snapper, which Ed notes have very finicky little bones), cuttlefish, cockles, slipper lobster, pork belly, and whole duck. The instructions for the challenge were a little confusing; the rouget and duck will be the focal points of their respective courses, but the rest of the proteins have to be used somewhere.

At the market, the friction Ilan tends to foster comes to the surface as he pushes against Ed's corn soup idea (Corn, in Singapore? At these prices?). Ed's less than thrilled about Ilan as a wildcard--let the power struggle begin! Meanwhile, is there any doubt that Angelo would be completely without hope with any previous champion other than Hung? I was not a Hung fan during his season, but I have come to enjoy his presence and really, truly respect his skill and wherewithal. Angelo would be shit outta luck without him; with him, it'll still be a tough row to hoe, but you find yourself thinking he can pull it off. His "whoa" idea during the shopping scene is a duck and foie gras marshmallow. Color me intrigued.

Three hours of prep begin, and Hung should really have a Bluetooth headset. He needs all of his hands to yoink all of the foie gras out of the cooler--though, with only one lobe in there, can you really blame him? This is not as big a deal as the Hosea/Stefan foie-off a couple years ago. While we see the chefs running down their menus, Angelo's getting more treatment in the hotel. Here comes the shot in the butt, a longshot 3% chance of success. Though the doc says it's unlikely that he'll be ready to go the next day, morning comes and Angelo is given the green light. I'd be dubious of this, except he does indeed survive the entire finish and service.

The big day arrives, and the chefs have another three hours. Angelo's there, drinkin' water, looking maybe a little wan, and positing that Ed didn't actually want him to be able to compete. "I want to sacrifice every part of me to be Top Chef," he says, and I don't feel like this is hyperbole. Ed's all fired up to be able to beat Angelo, as well as show up Ilan. "Ilan had his season, now it's my turn," Ed says, but I don't think the all-star helpers normally stick around for the last day of the competition, do they? Does that speak to low expectations?

As the professionals, diners, and judges cackle over Eric and Tom's selection of proteins, and Ed and Angelo focus excessively on beating each other, service begins at the very Singaporean-sounding "Jim Thompson: A Thai Restaurant" restaurant. Among the faces at the table are Dana Cowin, Paul Bartolotta, David Chang, Susan Feniger, Andre Chiang, plus Eric, Tom, Padma, and Gail.

FIRST COURSE
Ed: Chilled summer corn veloute, crispy fried black cockles. Kevin: Eggplant, zucchini, and roasted pepper terrine, pickled tomatoes, shaved jalapeños. Angelo: Grilled king royale mushrooms, fresh noodles, char siu bao pork belly, watermelon tea.

Angelo's daring flavors draw praise, and the diners can see that he's familiar with this area's cuisine. But according to Tom, this is "a dish that needs work." Susan would like more oomph from Kevin's spicy elements, while David thinks it takes balls to serve a vegetarian terrine in this setting--and I don't disagree. Either balls, or shit for brains. Eric liked Ed's dish the most of the three, calling it well-executed. Tom notes that all three chefs seemed to be displaying restraint with their first courses--not necessarily a bad thing.

SECOND COURSE
Ed: Bacon-wrapped slipper lobster and char-grilled cuttlefish, both over a stuffed rouget that was apparently not worth mentioning in the early menu rundown. Kevin: Pan-seared rouget with cuttlefish "noodles," braised pork belly. Angelo: Asian-style bouillabaisse over sauteed rouget and poached cuttlefish, scapes.

Dana thinks Kevin's dish is "interesting." (Sounds like high praise!) The pairing of squid ink and pork belly is surprising, but apparently enjoyable. Seetoh sees a lot of complication in Ed's rouget, though the effort that went into it is visible. "Need a user manual," he says. But Angelo's dish, Seetoh praises unequivocally ("BOOM").

THIRD COURSE
Ed: Duo of duck (roasted breast and spinach-stuffed neck). Kevin: Marinated roasted duck, caramelized bok choy, duck dumplings. Angelo: Sauteed duck and foie gras, cinnamon marshmallow, tart cherry shooter.

Kevin's dumplings are nice. The bok choy technique interests Eric and Seetoh, who finds it clever. Susan loves Angelo's ginger salad, and the inclusion of cinnamon. The shooter, however, mystifies Paul and he doesn't appear to be alone. Padma likes the contrast between Ed's duck neck and greens.

FOURTH COURSE
Ed: Sticky toffee date cake, fleur de sel chantilly cream. Kevin: "Singapore Sling 2010," coconut panna cotta. Angelo: "Thai Jewel" shaved ice, coconut vanilla cream, kaffir lime, saffron, water chestnuts.

There's more than meets the eye to Kevin's dessert, a twist on the flavors of a Singapore Sling cocktail presented flashily inside a dragonfruit. Seetoh announces that Kevin "just created a national dessert." In the face of that, Angelo's dessert, though comforting to Gail, verges a bit too much on the savory and doesn't hold a candle to Kevin's. And Ed. Oh, Ed. He turned this course over to Ilan almost exclusively, and confirming his worries, it came out looking like a brick. David calls it--rightly--a big "fuck you" to the conventions of this show, praising it as almost absurdly and hideously inventive. Lotta salt in the chantilly.

Back in the kitchen, everyone samples. Ed thinks Kevin's food is awesome (no word on what he thinks of Angelo's food, but I'm guessing it's something along the lines of "grumble grumble I fucked his girlfriend grumble"). Kevin thinks the competition is stiff, and Mike V. speaks for the past champs, saying it's "the second best we've seen on Top Chef."

Angelo is still vertical for Judges' Table, despite feeling the dehydration. The three chefs report to the judges, and Angelo starts. Gail found his rouget smart, and Eric thought the vegetable course was an intriguing twist. (Pork belly + watermelon = sign me up, anyway.) All the judges, however, were unhappy with the tart cherry shooter, which was described as a palate cleanser. Gail expresses the confusion, and Angelo gives a very convoluted description of the order of operations for eating that course. Um, no. This will not win Tom over to you, that's for damn sure.

Ed's gamble on the duck neck paid dividends, as Tom thought it showed skill. Everyone appears to have read a lot into the meaning and importance of his dessert, imbuing it with way the hell more than it ever deserved or intended. Ed didn't even make the damn thing! The only one not swept away by over-interpretationitis is Tom, who completely disassembles it. "What am I supposed to do here?", Ed whines, at least subtly acknowledging that the previous praise was unwarranted given his minimal role in the dessert. He wanted to make lemon curd but didn't really know how. Seriously, Ed? You suck.

Kevin has, if memory serves, soft-pedaled the spiciness of previous dishes, and did so again with his vegetable terrine. He made the mistake of completely seeding the jalapeños, which robs them of their punch. Gail saw Kevin's duck course as a play on duck a l'orange, and one that made an un-favorite dish a pleasant experience for her. But where Gail really goes over the edge is with regard to Kevin's dessert. She's had a Sling at the place in Singapore that invented it, and she'd take his every time.

The chefs retire to the Asian Stew, and the judges try to convince us how FUN this season was, and wasn't this a FUN meal? WOO...? (No. This was a down year in DC, the reality showkiller.) They break down each of the chefs' courses. For veg, Angelo's pork belly dominated, Kevin's needed some pizzazz, and Ed's flavors brought the northeast US to Asia in a nice way. For fish, Tom (thank you, Tom!) points out Ed's de-emphasized rouget, while Kevin's was harmonious and really good, and Angelo's had a great broth. For meat, Eric found Angelo's duck bizarre while Tom thought the meringue was misguided. Though Ed did a lot of work, his was overcooked and imperfect. Kevin took the most care of all, cooking his duck perfectly.

For dessert, Gail and Padma both loved Angelo's. Eric was shocked by Ed's dessert, and everyone was fairly shocked by his insecurity about taking a chance on lemon curd. Kevin's dessert was built layer by layer, displaying amazing composition. The phone poll surprised me this time around, with 49% voting for Ed--easily the least of the three meals, if you ask me. When the judges sum it up (basically, Ed came on strong, Angelo rallied from illness, Kevin honored every ingredient he was supposed to), and announce Kevin's name first, they've left almost no doubt as to what they'll say next: Kevin is Top Chef. His response: "I am?"

Yep. You didn't really blow anyone away all season, but you stuck around and managed some reasonably appealing dishes from time to time. But you were also a douche about "foreign" food, and that just can't stick around if you're gonna strike out on your own and try to succeed. We didn't get any indication this year of the order of finish, but I'd be pretty surprised if Angelo wasn't second place. Mike V. comes out with a tray of champagne, and Kevin basks in his win, which he hails as the first TC win for an African-American chef. Our response: "You are?"

So, that's that. Another season in the books. Top Chef: Just Desserts has already started, and you'll notice that I haven't posted anything on that yet, either. Given the shoddy work I've done this season in terms of getting recaps out, I'm gonna take a break and see if I can't rejigger my schedule to make recapping more workable. Right now, I just can't commit to the recap schedule in the way I want to. So, perhaps some thoughts now and then. But considering I haven't even watched the premiere yet, don't expect it this week.

It's a downer of an ending to this recap, I know, but thanks as always for reading. See ya around.